Provincial Update: Real leaders support people with disabilities

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP Ottawa Centre

Two weeks ago (August), Premier Ford said disabled Ontarians should “get a job,” and that some were “a few hundred bucks up” under the federal Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). So he ended a temporary $100/month COVID-19 benefit for people on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

As Ontario’s Critic for People with Disabilities, I was sickened. I asked if the premier knew what living with a disability was like in Ontario. 

Less than 8 per cent of the roughly 500,000 people on ODSP have paid employment (and therefore qualify for the CERB), and there are good reasons for this. To qualify for the ODSP, you must be physically unable to engage in paid work, or at least substantial amounts of it. 

Think about folks who live with significant trauma or pain. Think about people with mental or physical health conditions. These are the folks on ODSP. 

That’s a big reason why 92 per cent of ODSP recipients have no paid employment, and survive on a meagre income of $1,169 per month. 

That wasn’t a typo. Folks on ODSP earn 58 per cent of what’s available through the CERB. 

Think about what that says to people with disabilities. In enacting the CERB, we said a basic standard of living in Canada is $2,000 per month but, somehow, the standard of living for folks with disabilities is roughly half of that.   

Are people with disabilities worth half as much? No, but our social assistance programs suggest they are, and we have a premier who can’t appreciate why that is deeply wrong. 

We have a premier who claws back 50 per cent of CERB earnings for the small number of ODSP recipients who qualify for these benefits. And he’s just ended a temporary $100/month benefit, suggesting some were doing too well. 

That’s why I’ve insisted that Premier Ford apologize for his comments last week. To date, I’ve heard no reply from him. 

All I’ve seen from his government are disparaging comments against our disabled neighbours trapped in cycles of poverty. All they’ve done is dismiss any legislation I propose for people with disabilities as being “red tape” for employers.

We are better than this. We can have a province that cares about, and provides opportunity to, people with disabilities. We can follow local leaders like The Causeway, who support the disabled with employment services that are matched to the unique skills of each person, and not intended to claw back social assistance benefits for the vast majority of those unable to work full-time. 

Real leaders support people with disabilities and work to create a more enabling Ontario. I welcome any thoughts from you about how to make that happen. 

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